According to Reuters, only a limited number of states -- but no federal agencies -- mandate that law enforcement track rape kit backlogs. Last month, President Obama signed into law the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2014 (HR 4323), which allocates $151 million annually through fiscal year 2019 to the Department of Justice to assist police departments with lowering their rape kit backlogs via a grant program.
Data Details, Findings
In a pro bono collaboration with law firms Goodwin Procter and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, the foundation acquired the data using public records requests. The data release is part of JHF's The Accountability Project, which aims to reveal the number of backlogged untested rape kits across the U.S. (Caspani, Reuters, 10/3).
The foundation found that Las Vegas reported 4,385 untested rape kits in police storage facilities, after only 16% of the rape kits collected from 2004 to 2014 were sent to be analyzed at a lab.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee data showed that the city had a rape kit backlog of 2,655 (Joyful Heart Foundation release, 10/3). The Wisconsin Attorney General also reported that the state had an additional 3,351 untested rape kits.
In addition, Tulsa, Okla., records showed that the city had 3,783 untested rape kits that dated from 1989 to 2011.
Further, Seattle records indicated that the city had 1,276 untested rape kits, after only 22% of rape kits collected from 2004 to 2014 were sent to a crime lab for analysis.
Sarah Tofte, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, said, "This new data reminds us that we still have so much more to learn about the extent of the rape kit backlog in the United States."
Foundation founder Mariska Hargitay, an actress and advocate, added, "To me, the rape kit backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard sexual assault in our society. A rape kit can bring justice, so often an integral part of a survivor's healing. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter" (Reuters, 10/3).